Raila roots for enhanced integration in Africa

Azimio leader Raila Odinga. [Jonah Onyango, Standard] 

Azimio leader Raila Odinga has vouched for enhanced integration among African states for meaningful development.

The former prime minister, who issued a keynote address at the Oxford Africa Conference in London on Friday, pitched for intra-continental trade, open skies, open visa policies and connected infrastructure to prop up the continent on the global stage.

He told the Rhodes House audience of scholars and students that he would push for the said issues if elected African Union Commission chairperson.

"My candidature comes at a pivotal time in the continent’s multi-faceted transitions. We are beset by threats of reversal of democratic gains and internal social disorder, economic marginalization, and external insecurities. These can only be addressed by a fit-for-purpose AU," said the former premier.

Raila pointed out that trade between African states, the lowest among other continents at 15 per cent, would only keep the continent dependent on debt and aid.

"If Africa continues to be disunited in a fast changing world, it will continue to be marginalised, exploited and irrelevant," said Raila.

Similarly, he highlighted the bottlenecks involved in air travel across Africa, such as countless licences to access airspaces. Lack of infrastructure, Raila added, had made connectivity between neighbouring nations almost impossible.

"Only one country, South Sudan, separates Kenya and the Central African Republic, but there is no road or railway network connecting us. To move goods there, you would have to transport it down towards the cape in South Africa then upwards to West Africa," he said, adding that he would focus on connecting the continent's physical and technological infrastructure.

Raila further stated that Africa needed to seek to be self-sustainable and rise above excuses of colonialism, highlighting the fact that emerging giants in Asia had move beyond that past.

"That colonial past continues to weigh heavily on Africa, but it is not the only problem. I believe that the greatest hindrance to Africa’s aspirations has been disunity and our inability to mobilise our resources for the collective drive of the continent’s citizens," he said.

Raila insisted on partnership with other global actors on trade, security and climate change.

He further urged vigilance amid the ongoing scramble for Africa by global powers, saying leaders must learn to engage their foreign counterparts "as equals".

"Africa could, but must not be caught again in proxy wars between foreign powers as happened during the Cold War... While we need to engage with the world, Africa must find ways to navigate old and new geopolitical interests that often put it to great disadvantage."

He noted that statistics showed Africa was heading in the right direction but needed more deliberate effort to compete. 

During a panel discussion, Nairobi Senator Edwin Sifuna urged the youth to claim their place on the decision-making table.

"The political class does a lot to try and scare young people from politics... It is deliberate to try and scare young people from politics," said Sifuna.